Welcome to the playoffs Tribe fans! It’s go time for the Cleveland Indians and that means all hands are on deck as the franchise looks to win its first World Series championship since 1948.
The American League Division Series starts today for what is hopefully the first game of a long playoff run for the Tribe. The match-up pits the Indians against the New York Yankees, a long-time rival and a team that finds itself in the rare position of underdog.
Yes, it is the Tribe that is favored to advance to the next round after winning 102 games in the regular season, the second most in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Yankees weren’t exactly an odds-on favorite to reach the playoffs in what was supposed to be a retooling year. But with 91 wins and a second place finish in the American League East, New York earned a playoff berth.
So here we are after New York clubbed its way toward a 7-4 win Tuesday night at home in the American League Wild Card game against the Minnesota Twins. For the Tribe, the ALDS is not simply about the joy of beating the Yankees (although that is always a wonderful thing for Tribe fans). This match-up is about doing what it takes to advance to the next round and moving ahead toward a bigger goal.
In the regular season, the Indians went 5-2 against the Yankees for what that’s worth. But winning a playoffs series is never a simple task, especially when the spotlight runs through New York City.
For perhaps the first time since the 1990s, the Indians are poised to win the championship and anything else will be considered a disappointment. Cleveland is loaded and deep at nearly every position on the field and has playoffs experience after reaching Game 7 in the World Series in 2016. On the flipside, the Yankees last won the World Series in 2009 against the Philadelphia Phillies. But it’s a far different group of players from that team.
The Indians will have home-field advantage for the five-game ALDS against the Yankees. Cleveland hosts the first two games starting tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Friday at 5 p.m. then the teams will head to New York for Game 3 on Sunday at 8 p.m. and Game 4 (TBD if necessary), and a Game 5 would be played in Cleveland (TBD if necessary) October 11.
Here’s a look at how the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees compare in this American League Division Series matchup:
New York scored 858 runs in the regular season to rank second in the American League averaging 5.3 runs a game. The Yankees hit 241 home runs and slashed .262/.339/.447 (.785 OPS) during the regular season. New York was leaded by MVP candidate Aaron Judge, who had a phenomenal year as a rookie hitting 52 home runs with 114 RBI, along with a 1.049 OPS and 128 runs scored. Shortstop Didi Gregorius is an emerging star after hitting 25 home runs with 87 RBI and outfielder Brett Gardner continues to plug away with his combination of speed and power with 21 home runs and 23 steals. Catcher Gary Sanchez isn’t know for his defense, but a catcher who hits 33 home runs and drives in 90 is a major offensive weapon.
The Indians were nearly identical with a .263/.339/.449 slash and ranked third in the American League with 818 runs in the regular season for an average of 5.05 runs per game. The offensive attack is led by MVP candidates Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, and Carlos Santana, along with a balanced lineup throughout the remainder of the order. Austin Jackson has been a major addition to the club in 2017 as he helped plug the gap in the outfield with injuries to Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall.
Bottom Line: Both offenses are juggernauts with the potential to score lots of runs and are capable of beating up on pitchers who aren’t on their game.
The Yankees ranked third in the American League with a 3.72 ERA. Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55 ERA) will get the start for Game 1 for the Yankees and CC Sabathia (9-5, 4.53 ERA) gets the nod for Game 2. New York hadn’t officially announced other starters for the series as of this writing. But the staff is lead by Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) who wasn’t available for Game 1 because he started the Wild Card game vs. The Twins on Tuesday and that created some uneasiness among Yankees fans after his terrible start. The Yankees also have veteran starter Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74 ERA) available as an option, if needed.
Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA) will once again lead the Indians rotation that some say may be the best of all-time. The Indians staff finished the season with a 3.30 ERA and struck out 1,614 hitters to lead the Majors in both categories. This year, Kluber will have much more help in the rotation for the playoffs with a fully healthy staff ready to go. In a mild surprise, Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19 ERA) is poised to start Game 1, with Kluber starting Game 2. Carlos Carrasco (18-6, 3.29 ERA) will start Game 3 and Josh Tomlin (10-9, 4.98 ERA) would be available for Game 4. The logic behind Kluber starting Game 2 instead of the opener is Kluber would start a potential Game 5 with normal rest.
Kluber and Carrasco are arguably the best two starters in this series with Bauer having his best season to date as he finished the months of August and September with an 8-1 record. If the Tribe and Bauer can take care of Game 1, then Kluber and Carrasco could potentially close out the series. If Game 4 is needed, it will be interesting whether Tomlin, who is scheduled to start, actually will take the hill for that game.
An interesting note is New York pitchers issued 504 walks in the regular season, while Tribe pitchers walked only 406. A patient approach just may benefit Cleveland while at the plate. This unit may be the weakness of the Yankees, so if Tribe hitters can score early as they have done most of the season, and play from in front, then good things might be in store. Another key for the Indians is not to let Aaron Judge become a legend in his first playoff run. Keep him in check and the Tribe should be fine.
In 2016, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen posted some of the most dominating relief performances in postseason history. The rest of the bullpen includes a durable Bryan Shaw, but also starter-turned-playoff relievers Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar, plus lefty Tyler Olson. Each of these relievers is capable of pitching more than one inning and we’ve seen Manager Terry Francona perform bullpen magic before in October. If a starter can go five or six innings with a lead, the Indians can use that strength to close out the game. But even if a starter falters, then the bullpen staff is capable of logging a lot of innings. The depth of the Indians pitching staff is so deep that Dan Otero, Nick Goody and Zach McAllister, who combined for a 2.75 ERA in 176.2 innings were left of the post season roster.
The Yankees bullpen is led by a familiar face with lefty Aroldis Chapman and his 100-plus MPH fastball. It’s worth noting that for as dominating as he can be, Chapman has been vulnerable against the Indians in the past (remember Rajai Davis and his two-run home run in the 2016 World Series). He is joined by Dellin Betances, Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Adam Warren.
This unit is comparable to the Indians and one could make an argument that it is slightly better. But if Miller is healthy and can pitch like he did last year in the playoffs, then I don’t buy it that the Yankees bullpen is better. But Miller did miss significant time toward the end of the season, so there’s just a little bit of uncertainty there.
Advantage: Indians (slightly)
The Indians defense as a unit has been very solid in 2017 and are led by reigning Platinum Glove winner Lindor at short, Ramirez at second, Santana at first (who should be in the thick of consideration for a Gold Glove), and slick-fielding Giovanny Urshela at third. Erik Gonzalez will serve as an outstanding defensive utility player. Catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are wizards behind the plate and are among the best in controlling the running game and handling a pitching staff. The outfield of Jackson, Chisenhall and Bruce are solid and tested veterans, but it remains to be seen how Jason Kipnis fares in his new position at center field. It will be interesting to see if he spends anytime manning second base if substitution situations arise. The Indians will miss Bradley Zimmer in center.
Centerfielder Aaron Hicks has perhaps the strongest arm in the outfield and Gardner plays a good left field and Judge mans a solid right field. Gregorius is a good shortstop and Todd Frazier is a capable third baseman. Sanchez has a problem with passed balls and that could be a key at some point, but he also has a strong arm.
The Indians were ranked fourth in the American League and eighth overall in MLB by Fangraphs.com, according to the website’s advanced statistics. The Yankees were ranked eighth in the AL and 14th overall in those rankings.
Overall, the Indians are frequently considered to be a great defensive team while the Yankees are average. In the playoffs when every out counts and a single play can be series changing, that can be a big difference.
The Indians have better depth at starting pitching and the Indians will aim to score runs early to keep their winning formula of getting a lead and then giving way to the bullpen. But the starting rotation with Kluber and Carrasco are capable of pitching masterful games. If the Yankees can get quality starts from their rotation, then this series can be pretty evenly matched as both teams are quite capable of scoring runs. However, Kluber remains a key component for the Tribe because if he continues to pitch like he has since June, he and the Indians will be very tough to beat.
Not letting Aaron Judge steal the show will also be critical task for the Indians. But if he has a dominant series, Judge is capable of carrying the Yankees. Don’t discount homefield advantage especially if the Tribe win the first two games at home as it will be tough for the Yankees to then reel off three consecutive wins, especially with Kluber pitching at home on regular rest in a Game 5. I also like the Indians overall team speed and defense more than the Yankees.
Lastly, all season long the Indians have prepared for the big stage of October and winning 22 games in a row seemed to right the ship and get the team really focused on the task ahead. The Tribe has been rolling and is the better team on paper. I don’t see the train slowing down anytime soon.